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The Simplest Credit Cards in America

Jason Steele

Credit cards are powerful financial instruments, but they can also be incredibly complicated. The user agreements for these products read like they were written by a team of lawyers that were being paid by the hour. But what is worse is that many of these products’ terms are filled with fees and penalties that can snare all but the most diligent cardholders.

Thankfully, the credit card market is also extremely competitive, and several banks and credit unions are now offering simplified products designed to appeal to credit card users who feel overwhelmed by the complexity of most cards.

So this month, for our Best Credit Cards in America series, which uses a proprietary rating system to give each card a “benefits/rewards score” and then subtracts the “costs score,” we examined the top offerings in this emerging field, and selected the most simplified products from all of the major banks as well as some of the largest credit unions. We also looked for which ones have the most favorable terms, and the fewest fees and penalties.

So if you are the kind of credit card user who doesn’t have a law degree, or just doesn’t have all day to figure out all of the ways your card might get you, one of these cards might be right for you.

The Winner: PenFed Promise

The Promise card, offered by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, has an almost cult following among those who are aware of it.  It is the only card on the market that claims to have “absolutely no fees.”

How simple is it? This card has no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, no balance transfer fee, no cash advance fee, no late fee and no penalty APR.

Other features: To apply for this card you have to join PenFed, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Fortunately, membership is effectively open to anybody.
The costs: Promise boasts a low 7.49% introductory APR on purchases for three years, followed by a standard APR of 9.99% based on the current Prime Rate. The 9.99% rate also applies for balance transfers. Its promotional balance transfer rate is 4.99%, which is valid until the balance is paid off.

1st Runner-Up: Barclaycard Ring

Most of the cards issued by Barclays are rewards cards co-branded with other companies. So when it comes to issuing products under their own brand, they seemed to have decided that simpler is better.

How simple is it? This card has no annual fee and no balance transfer fees. The interest rate on purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances is 8%; not 7.99%, not a range of possible rates, or one of three rates depending on your credit worthiness, just 8%. The cash advance fee is just $1 for each cash advance, and the foreign transaction fee is a minimal 1%.

Other features: Barclaycard says that this is the first crowdsourced credit card. It lets cardholders decide whether to give any rewards to charity or to get cash back. It even goes so far as to open its books and show how the program is performing.

The costs: There are no annual fees for this card, and the late fee is just $25 rather than the $35 maximum allowed by law.

2nd Runner-Up: Citi Simplicity

With a name like Simplicity, cardholders should expect a simple card. Thankfully, Citi does not disappoint.

How simple is it? This card offers no late fees and no penalty interest rate. It also features 18 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers. 

Other features: Citi includes an extended warranty policy, retail purchase protection, and their Price Rewind service that automatically credits cardholders when the price drops on one of their purchases.

The costs: The standard APR for both purchases and cash advances is 12.99%, 17.99%, or 21.99%, depending on the applicant’s credit worthiness. Unfortunately, cash advances are subject to a fee of either $10 or 5%, whichever is greater, and this card does have a 3% balance transfer fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee. There is annual fee for this card.

At publishing time, Citi Simplicity is offered through Credit.com product pages and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

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